A look back at the Batman films

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By Sam Watermeier
<swatermeier@hilite.org>

“The Dark Knight” is here. Film critics around the country are calling it not only the best Batman film but one of the best films of the year. Before I see it myself, I want to take a look back at the Batman franchise, a diverse group of films with a slew of talented directors, actors and a variety of visual styles and tones that have experienced both enormous success and devastating failure.

Batman: The Movie” (1966) – This is a classic example of a film that is so bad it’s good. It features an over-the-top Adam West as Bruce Wayne/Batman and Bud Cort as his gee-whiz sidekick Robin. This film also has cheesy/classic moments, such as Batman kicking a shark while hanging from a helicopter. It is best not to look at “Batman: The Movie” as a real Batman adaptation and just accept it for what it is: a campy send-up of superheroes in general. My Grade: B-

“Batman” (1989) – Inspired by Frank Miller’s graphic novel The Dark Knight Returns, director Tim Burton steered the Batman saga in a much more serious direction with this film. With its stark, gothic production design and complex character study, this film redefined the comic book genre and showed that it is more than just fun and games. My Grade: A-

“Batman Returns” (1992) – Not only was Tim Burton able to create a spectacular and hauntingly macabre fantasy world, but with the help of a stellar cast (Michael Keaton, Danny Devito and Michelle Pfeifer), he brought real, raw emotion to it. You really get the sense of Bruce Wayne’s agony in being the Dark Knight. He is tired and worn down during the action scenes and he approaches his crime fighting as being very routine. Keaton’s take on the winged avenger is daring in that it is not a grandiose depiction like “Batman Begins.” In that sense, this is the ultimate “anti-comic book” movie. Speaking of being unconventional, this is one of the few, maybe only, superhero movies that is sympathetic to the villains. Batman is able to relate to them because like him, they have a desperate need for revenge as a result of scarred pasts. This film even goes so far as to suggest that the villains and Batman himself are poised on the knife’s edge between right and wrong. My Grade: A

“Batman Forever” (1995) – This film is interesting because it seems like it is going to be completely campy with its flashy visual style and inclusion of Robin and comedic, flamboyant villains like The Riddler, but it maintains the dark psychological roots of the Tim Burton films. It never loses sight of the heart of the Batman saga: Bruce Wayne’s struggle with a life of vengeance. With its bright exterior and dark interior, this film is arguably the most loyal adaptation of the early Batman comics. Unfortunately, the almost unbearable corniness of the Robin character is still intact, which prevents this film from attaining a higher rating. My Grade: B+

“Batman and Robin” (1997) – This atrocious movie is not even worthy of discussion. Watching it, you get the feeling that the filmmakers and actors are so ashamed of its cheesiness that they are not even trying. The worst thing about this film, though, is that unlike 1966’s “Batman: The Movie,” it actually takes itself seriously. My Grade: D+

“Batman Begins” (2005) – This film is admirable for bringing a realistic quality to the Batman franchise. For example, unlike Burton’s films, Gotham City looks like a real city, and Bruce Wayne’s path to becoming Batman is depicted in a more believable way. Unfortunately, the action scenes are exhausting to watch. Their clumsiness and predictability give them the quality of a video game. My Grade: B

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